From Ritual to Relationship: A Hindu Daughter's Spiritual Journey
by Carnegie Kukreti
A Memory from Childhood…
Today is Friday. I go with my mother to the temple for our usual poojas(offerings of prayer). We place fruit and milk on the altar before the gods. We bow and recite our prayers. I ask the gods to do good to our family. We leave, but the scent of burning incense lingers…
My Hindu Home
I grew up in a staunch Hindu home. My parents, as well as my ancestors for generations before them, followed the Hindu religion. Mother, a very devout worshipper, practiced the religious rituals more faithfully than my father. Like many other Indian intellectuals, he did not participate in every festival and the regular poojas at the temple, but for truly important Hindu events, he was always involved.
As the youngest child in my family I was very attached to my mother and so I gained my early religious beliefs from her example. She is definitely the kindest person I know. Through her many charitable deeds, she blesses everyone who comes to her with a need. She believes, as all Hindus believe, that you get good karma when you do good deeds and if you refrain from angering the gods. As I followed my mother to the various festivals and faithfully did the poojas that she did, I hoped my actions would please the gods. When I got older, I became quite a celebrity within the Hindu community by performing classical dances at fundraising events at temple functions.
Beliefs in Question
My first experience with Christianity came when I was quite young, when my older sister—six years older than I—announced to my parents that she had converted to Christianity. At the time, she was attending the university in Singapore and had met some young people from Campus Crusade for Christ. Through their witness she had become a believer in Jesus. Her announcement really shocked my parents, especially my mother, and they were devastated by my sister’s actions. Even though I was young, I too felt that my sister had betrayed our family and faith to follow another religion. My mother clearly forbade my older sister from sharing anything about her faith with the rest of the family, and she was not allowed to go to church. I told myself that I would never let anyone brainwash me into following another religion. I would always be true to my parents and the faith of our family. I continued to be active in the temple activities until one day everything about my Hindu belief changed for me too!
After I graduated from high school, my parents allowed me to go to law school in England. Being away from home enabled me to look at my faith from a different perspective. Perhaps not unlike other students my age, I started questioning my Hindu beliefs and asking what meaning my religious training had. It was a rude awakening to me when I realized that I was simply following acts and religious protocol without any understanding. What I came to see was that I was trying to be a good Hindu mainly because I was afraid of disappointing my mother and others in the Hindu religious circle who respected me. I was convicted that I was guilty of both ignorance and pride!
The Birth of a Relationship
During the years I studied in London, some friends and I began attending an interdenominational church called Kensington Temple. At first I attended out of curiosity but later began to listen attentively to the messages delivered by the pastor. I heard that I did not need to do religious acts in order to prevent being punished by God but instead, God is love and could be my friend. I found it hard to accept that God loves me—because I knew my sin and weaknesses. And I also couldn’t understand why I couldn’t earn God’s favor by my good deeds. But gradually I came to understand the most important thing—that following Jesus means having a personal relationship with the eternal God, not doing religious acts! My spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ was born one Sunday when the pastor called people to the altar for prayer. I moved forward and gave my life to Jesus, the One who loves me enough to die for my sin. From this beginning, I continued to learn more and more about the Lord through studying the Bible an through the fellowship of other believers in the church.
Alone in My Faith
When my years of study in London were complete, I returned home to Singapore, and my world turned upside down. My family reacted to my conversion as a betrayal and with accusations that I had become westernized. My mother mourned for days and refused to acknowledge my Christian faith. I tried hard to make my family understand why I believed in Jesus as the one and only Savior, but often our talks ended in arguments. Part of the insult and humiliation my mother felt was because people in the Hindu society continually confronted her with questions of why her daughters had become Christians.
Seeing the strain my new belief put on my family, especially my mother, and feeling their pain, I sometimes questioned whether I was doing the right thing. A sense of betrayal to my parents haunted me and caused me to question my new-found faith in Christ. The biggest struggle for my parents was not that I believed in Jesus but that I believed that Jesus is the only way and there is no other. Hindus are very open and tolerant to other religions. They occasionally go to churches, Buddhist temples, Chinese temples, and mosques because they believe that all religions lead to the same god. My mother, a devout Hindu, often attends a catholic church near our home because she, like other Hindus, believes that all religions teach good things. But Hindus do not accept the Bible as the “only” Word of God nor Jesus as the “only” way to salvation.
At first I was not allowed to go to church or to read the Bible in my parents’ presence. I struggled in my faith because I had no one to stand beside me and give me encouragement. My Christian friends were back in London, and I had no Christian friends in Singapore. I know now how important it is to help new believers to group and learn how to cope in an unfriendly environment. In order not to antagonize my parents any further, I read my Bible and did my praying quietly in my room.
While struggling to adapt to home life after my return to Singapore, I eventually met some authentic believers who encouraged me and invited me to their Bible study fellowships. Initially I didn’t tell my parents about my Christian activities, but over a period of time, I started inviting my Christian friends to my home for dinner. Once, in a moment of boldness, I invited my parents to a healing service at church! After almost five years, my parents accepted my faith and I could openly tell them about my beliefs. I am not sure if it was their acquaintance with my Christian friends that helped break down the barriers or if it was the difference they saw in my life. But I know the Lord was working in their hearts all the time.
The Lord has changed my parents’ hearts in amazing ways over the years. Today my parents are very open to Christianity! My father has started attending church with my older sister. My mother is still a devout Hindu, and though she is open to attending church, she still struggles to accept that Jesus is the only way of salvation. My sister and I are praying for our parents, believing that nothing is impossible with God. He surely answers prayer!
One Amazing Answer!
God answered my prayers for a Christian husband by bringing Sanjay into my life in the most unexpected manner. I prayed for many years that God would give me a Christian husband. I had built a successful law career but I wanted to settle down and have a family. I was hoping to meet an eligible Indian Christian man through church and Christian activities, but because the Indian population in Singapore is a minority group in an 85% majority Chinese population, the number of eligible Indian men is small and most of them are Hindu. It was difficult for me as an Indian Christian woman to find an Indian Christian husband because my parents did not know many Indian Christian families, and there were only a few Christian men at my workplace.
I believed that God could work in mysterious ways and I wanted to honor my parents by having them involved in finding me a life partner. I decided to go for an arranged marriage where I could meet some suitors whom my parents approved of. I was praying for God to bring an Indian Christian husband even though I had decided to go for an arranged marriage. My parents were honored that I had sought their approval first, and hence they felt and appreciated that I should marry a Christian man to avoid any future complications. That is how I met my husband Sanjay who was from India and working in Singapore at the time. We both came from a family which is Hindu based but we had our respective parents’ blessings to come together. After a short courtship, we were married and we had both an Indian and Christian wedding in India and Singapore respectively. God honored us as we chose to honor Him and enabled us to be equally yoked as believers. We have been joyfully married for eight years now.
The Journey Continues
It has been 18 years since I first gave my heart to the Lord Jesus. Some of these years have been years of great spiritual growth. At other times my faith has been weak because of the materialism and work pressures I have faced. But even during dark days of my spiritual journey, the Lord has carried me through.
In 2004 my husband’s job brought us to the USA, and we have faced the challenges of settling down in a foreign land and finding new friends and a church home where we could continue growing in our faith. We are learning to serve the Lord daily in our work place and in our marriage and home. We have also learned that being a Christian is a spiritual journey—and the Lord carries us through the mountains andthe valleys of life.
Carnegie Kukreli lives with her husband Sanjay in Dallas, Texas. They have been married eight years and have no children yet—but they are praying for a miracle! They attend First Baptist Church, Carrollton, and support ministries which focus on bringing the gospel to Asia and around the world.